Rachel Gilman: The Dames of Dodge Street

grey and blue building

I am a rising senior at Gallatin studying creative writing and gender studies — particularly, the importance of female narratives. My project is to investigate and profile the female business community in Block Island, Rhode Island (a small island off the coast of the mainland) and to see how it has been affected by gentrification over the past fifty years.

I quickly realized that “gentrification,” while not a foreign concept, is not one that this community occupies much of their time worrying about. Instead, the women business owners are focused on how to balance the growth of their businesses dependent on these “gentrifying” tourists with keeping the original spirit of Block Island alive.

One such group of women go by the “Dames of Dodge Street.” They get their name from the street on which their businesses are located, mere steps from where travelers depart ferries in the historic Old Harbor district.

Nearly every business on this street is owned, run, and operated by females. Among these business owners are Christy and Becca Zandt, the sisters behind recently renovated The Darius Inn, and Mary Lawless, who can be found across the street at Watercolors. These women, as well as others, spoke with me about about the generational bonding of women on the street.

It was unanimously agreed upon that there is a strong camaraderie among the business owners and a willingness to help one another, from providing change for drawers to watching shops if someone had to run into town for a needed supply. Not only does this relationship boost the morale on the street, but the ladies also decided to use this spirit in a business venture. They began holding Thursday evening strolls down the street where shoppers will not only get special deals on merchandise, but will also get a taste of the kind of community that makes Block Island unique.

Such decisions that are equally socially and fiscally involved are, I came to find, what allow Block Island to stay unique amongst other similar gentrified coastal communities.

The sign at the end of Dodge Street, home to multiple female business owners in Block Island
The Darius Inn on Dodge Street
Watercolors on Dodge Street